"Crowded Churches and Empty Stomachs"
The title of this essay is deliberately provocative. It aims at drawing attention on the reality of Christian churches full everyday – not only on sundays – with people who everyday die from hunger. In the Congo-Zaire. Behind the image of crowded churches, I see the complex reality of Christianity, and behind the image of empty stomachs, I have in view the complex reality of poverty, oppression, violence and death. It is paradoxical that those two realities grow together. This essay explores the sources of that paradox, going back to the first encounter of the people of the old Kongo Kingdom, and later on Congo-Zaire, with Christianity. It analyzes the relationships between Christianity and the poor throughout the history of the Congo-Zaire. It examines the message of salvation brought by Christianity and how it is related to the people’s conditions of life. The conclusion is tough, but unavoidable. First, Christianity during colonial times – which I call missionary Christianity – in the Congo-Zaire did not side with the poor. It served the interests of the powerful, to safeguard its own interests. It despised the way of life of the autochthonous and destroyed their identity. Second, Christianity today in the Congo-Zaire – which I call postindependence Christianity – struggles with the heritage of the colonial past, but it basically continues to function following the same model. We still live in the colonial settings. Therefore, this for me is the key to resolving the paradox. Following the insights of postcolonial theories, turn the page of colonial Christianity, move towards what I call a “postcolonial Christianity.” That postcolonial Christianity should be informed by the African way of life (hence re-appropriating the values of the autochthonous) and rooted in the preferential option for the poor, which is the main principle at the heart of liberation theology. There lies a great challenge: how to actualize that postcolonial Christianity in the Congo-Zaire?